All-inclusive resorts can be an incredibly convenient way to vacation. Commonly found in Mexico and the Caribbean, these tropical resorts typically include all meals and snacks, nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks, and nonmotorized ocean sports (kayaking, sailing, and snorkeling just off the beach) in the nightly room rate.
Activities ranging from dance lessons and cocktail-making classes to beach volleyball and morning yoga are also included, as is access to the on-site fitness center. Also often included: evening entertainment (think live music, karaoke, fire shows, and comedians) and kids’ clubs.
When you book an all-inclusive vacation, you pay one fee, and a whole lot of food, drink, and entertainment is at your fingertips. Sounds easy, right? It sure is, but there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind to help your all-inclusive trip go as smoothly as possible — especially if you’re new to this type of travel.
Here are some mistakes to avoid when you’re planning, booking, and experiencing your next all-inclusive resort vacation.
1. Expecting Everything To Be Included
With all that is included in an all-inclusive resort vacation, there’s plenty that isn’t included. For example, resorts nearly always charge for a la carte spa treatments (and they’re not cheap). A round of golf at the resort course will likely cost you. If you want to drink premium wine, beer, and liquor outside of the house brands, you’ll pay for that, too. And there will likely be an upcharge for special restaurant dishes like lobster and steak.
Then there are the “extras” you might want to enjoy while at the resort, such as a candlelight dinner on the beach, scuba-diving lessons, or a reserved beach bed with gourmet treats.
That said, the specific inclusions at different resorts vary widely. Some properties, like Beaches, do include premium liquors. Sometimes, certain room categories or packages, like the El Dorado Spa Resorts’ Honeymoon Collection, include a special romantic dinner or two-for-one couples’ massage. Sandals covers greens fees at its Caribbean golf resorts.
Bottom Line: Research what exactly is included in your reservation. If you can’t find the answer on the resort’s website, pick up the phone or start an online chat with a reservations agent to get the scoop. Or enlist the help of a travel agent.
2. Not Bringing Enough Cash For Tips
Some resorts, such as Couples, have a publicized no-tipping policy. That means you don’t need to leave cash tips for housekeepers, bartenders, and other resort employees — your room rate covers all gratuities.
More typically, it’s customary to leave a few dollars for the friendly bartender making your drinks, the restaurant servers who are hustling to get hot food to your table, the energetic activities staff running the fun volleyball games, the housekeeping staff leaving you towel animals on your bed every night, and the bell staff handling your luggage.
Bottom Line: Find out what your resort’s policy is when you’re booking your vacation. Plan to bring several $1 and $5 bills to support hardworking employees if tipping is allowed on the property. If tips are covered in your room rate, you’ll still want a few dollars to tip taxi drivers, luggage handlers, or tour guides you may encounter outside the resort. (Dollars are widely accepted as tips in Mexico and the Caribbean, though local currency is welcomed as well.)
3. Readily Accepting The Offer To Sit Through A Timeshare Or Vacation Club Presentation
Most all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico have a vacation club, where members pay a fee to receive significant discounts or upgraded “members-only” rooms on trips to that family of resorts. Similarly, timeshares (also called vacation-ownership memberships) allow people to purchase a set number of weeks to spend annually at the resort — or other resorts in the network — so you are basically paying for subsequent vacations in advance.
On arrival at your all-inclusive resort, you’ll undoubtedly be asked to attend a vacation club or timeshare presentation in exchange for a “free” gift. Over the years, my husband and I have sat through these talks for $100 in cash, a Jeep rental, and a 60-minute massage. Each time we said, “No, thank you,” firmly, when we were asked to buy into a timeshare or vacation club (even after the initial offer dropped in price by more than 75 percent).
We have zero interest in being locked into vacationing at the same place every year, and we don’t want to be stuck with a timeshare that will then need to be deeded to our kids or otherwise sold when we can’t travel anymore.
However, I like freebies, so we sat through the sales spiels. That is, until the last time — the sales tactics were incredibly aggressive, we were treated rudely when we said we weren’t interested, and we were roughly escorted out a back service door (while folks who did purchase memberships were celebrated with champagne bottles popping and bells ringing). Now we simply say we don’t want to attend a spiel.
Bottom Line: Consider whether it’s worth giving up at least an hour of your vacation time to tour the timeshare or vacation club accommodations and sit through the sales presentation. Often, salespeople will say it’ll take just an hour, but they’ll keep selling until you literally get up and walk away. Keep an eye on your watch and make clear you’re done listening after the agreed-upon 60 minutes.
Be prepared for aggressive sales tactics — it’s easy to be swayed and make a purchase impulsively! Remember, you can always just budget for that massage or other “freebie” instead of wasting your time in a sales presentation.
4. Not Exploring The Whole Resort Or Trying New Things
This is your vacation — you should spend it how you like. And if you immediately find a favorite spot at the pool for lounging, or a favorite breakfast restaurant with the best made-to-order omelets, then by all means, put that on repeat daily until it’s time to go home. Similarly, if you’ve been to Mexico multiple times, and this particular trip is all about rest and relaxation on the beach, then there’s no need to book a bunch of off-site excursions to local cenotes, archaeological ruins, or snorkeling spots.
But I’d suggest that if you’re at a new-to-you vacation destination, you take the time to check out all the offerings of the resort and its surroundings. That means scouting out the different relaxing spots to read your book (hammock, lounge chair, or beach bed!) or making reservations at the various a la carte restaurants (typically upon arrival with the concierge or restaurant staff, to avoid missing out).
Also consider visiting the resort’s tour desk, where representatives can sign you up for off-property trips to learn about the local culture or have fun with various activities — from a sunset catamaran cruise to a zip-lining adventure to swimming with stingrays.
Bottom Line: You know what you like, and on vacation you may not be interested in any surprises. But traveling also offers opportunities to try new things. So if you’re going to a Club Med property and you can learn to fly on a trapeze — safely, and for free! — why not sign up? Similarly, with all of your food included, sample new dishes. If you don’t love what you ordered, don’t hesitate to ask for a different appetizer or entree — all your food is paid for already, so enjoy!
5. Packing Too Much
I’m a chronic overpacker. Too often, I’ll tuck one more shirt or pair of shoes into my packed bag “just in case,” and then I end up bringing home clothes that I hadn’t worn. For my most recent trip to a tropical all-inclusive resort, I packed a carry-on only for a week’s stay.
In my carry-on and tote bag were three sets of shorts and tank tops to exercise in (I wore my sneakers on the plane); five bathing suits; three beach cover-ups; water shoes (because I knew we were going to a spot with a rocky beach); two pairs of flip-flops; a dressy pair of sandals; four jersey dresses and two light sweaters for dinner (indoor restaurants are notoriously over-air-conditioned); plus a snorkel and mask, curling iron, and a whole bunch of toiletries and over-the-counter meds (just in case!).
Turns out, I’d even packed too much in my carry-on. I would have done just fine with one less sweater, bathing suit, evening dress, and beach cover-up. That curling iron did me absolutely no good in the humid weather — my bangs did what they wanted to, and curls just didn’t hold.
Bottom Line: There’s no reason to wear a different bathing suit or evening outfit every day on vacation. Having fewer items to keep track of, and lighter luggage to cart around, just makes traveling simpler, in my book. Especially at an all-inclusive resort, where days are mostly spent at the pool or beach, and dinner is a classy affair (be sure to confirm any dress code before you arrive), just a few outfits to mix and match — and re-wear — will do nicely!